Potato Bug | Must Read If You Want Potato Beetle Perfect Control

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The potato bug, also known as the Colorado potato beetle, belongs to the genus Leptinotarsa, which encompasses more than 40 species in California and South America, including at least 10 species found north of Mexico. While most species found north of Mexico are located in the southern United States, two are found in the eastern states or throughout most of the country. The Colorado potato bug, Leptinotarsa decemlineata, is a significant pest of potatoes and other solanaceous plants and is the more notable of the two. The Colorado potato beetle was discovered in 1811 and described in 1824 from specimens.

The insect’s link with the potato plant, Solanum tuberosum, was not discovered until 1859, when it began devastating potato harvests west of Omaha, Nebraska, almost 100 miles away. In 1874, the insect’s rapid eastward spread reached the Atlantic Coast. Curiosity surrounds the origin of the name potato bug or “Colorado potato beetle,” as the insect is considered to have originated in central Mexico, not Colorado. From 1863 to 1867, it was known as the ten-striped spearman, the ten-lined potato beetle or potato bug, and the new potato bug. The bug was not identified in Colorado until two of his colleagues reported seeing large numbers of it feeding on buffalo burrows in the Colorado region. This convinced him that the species originated in Colorado. The phrase “Colorado potato beetle” was first used in 1867.

Potato Bug

Potato bug on a leaf
Potato Bug

The potato bug (Leptinotarsa decemlineata), often known as the Colorado potato beetle, is a nuisance for people because it feeds on plants that farmers spend valuable time and energy cultivating. The Colorado potato bug is indigenous to the western region of the Rocky Mountains, and it was first discovered by British explorers in the early 19th century munching on buffalo burr, which is a species of the nightshade family (Solanum rostratum). By the end of the nineteenth century, potato bugs had spread throughout North America and Europe, causing damage to crops of potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, and chili peppers. Potato bugs are now prevalent across the entirety of Asia. This is how an otherwise harmless insect might be classified as a “pest” in the eyes of people.

What Is A Potato Bug

A “potato bug” can refer to different creatures depending on the region and context. The most common associations with the term “potato bug” are:

Jerusalem Cricket: In some parts of North America, especially in the western United States, people use the term “potato bug” to refer to Jerusalem crickets. These insects are not true crickets, but rather belong to the family Stenopelmatidae. They are known for their large size, distinctive appearance, and are sometimes seen as pests in gardens.

Colorado Potato Beetle: In some regions, particularly in agriculture, “potato bug” is used to refer to the Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). This is a notorious pest that attacks potato plants and other related crops.

Woodlouse or Pill Bug: In some areas, “potato bug” can also be used to describe woodlice or pill bugs. These are crustaceans, not insects, and are known for their ability to roll into a ball when threatened. They are often found in gardens and under rocks and logs.
It’s important to note that the term “potato bug” is not standardized and can vary in meaning from one region to another. To avoid confusion, it’s best to use the scientific or common names for specific organisms when discussing them, especially in scientific or agricultural contexts.

What is Colorado Potato Beetle? Is it Harmful

The Leptinotarsa species have maxillary palpi (mouthparts) with an apical segment shorter than the preceding, truncate; a mesosternum not raised above the prosternum; and a simple male profemur. Leptinotarsa decemlineata, the Colorado potato bug, and Leptinotarsa juncta, the potato beetle, live in Florida. Due to its resemblance to Leptinotarsa decemlineata, it has been misnamed the Colorado potato beetle.

The adult potato bug has a humped, hard shell with ten orange and black vertical stripes that run from its head to its tail. It is roughly the size of an adult human’s pinky fingernail. In fact, the Latin name for this species, decemlineata, translates to “ten lines”. Larvae have a distinct appearance, being reddish-brown, chubby, and marked with black patches that run along their sides. Potato bugs eat everything, including underground in the early spring.

If you have potato bugs in your garden, you can hand-pick the adult insects early in the growing season before they damage or kill plants. Later, pesticides or netting may deter them. The Kentucky University extension entomologist Bessin says commercial producers use many insecticides. To postpone Colorado potato bug insecticide resistance, these producers must rotate insecticide modes of action. This bug is highly resistant to pesticides.

Potato Bug California

The term “potato bug” is commonly used to refer to several different insects in different regions, so it’s important to clarify which specific insect you are asking about in California. In California, one common insect referred to as a “potato bug” is the Jerusalem cricket (Ammopelmatus spp.), which is also known by other names such as “child of the earth,” “sand cricket,” or “Niño de la Tierra.” Jerusalem crickets are large, nocturnal insects that are often found in the western United States, including California. They are not true crickets, nor are they actual bugs, but they are often called “potato bugs” due to their somewhat similar appearance to certain beetles and the fact that they are sometimes found in gardens or near potato plants.

Life Cycle of Potato Bug (Colorado Potato Beetle)

The Colorado potato bug life cycle begins with the adult overwintering stage, which can be as little as 30 days. Adults burrow several inches below the soil and then emerge in the spring. Where they mate, they graze on newly sprouting host plants. Females lay eggs on the surface of the leaves of the host plant, typically on the underside that is shielded from direct sunlight. Adults that overwinter typically eat for five to ten days before mating and laying eggs.

potato bug eggs
Potato bug eggs

Females lay over 300 eggs over the course of four to five weeks. Eggs hatch in four to ten days, depending on temperature and humidity. The overall duration of the four larval instars is 21 days. The only time the larvae cease feeding on the leaves of the host plant is when they molt. Larvae fall off plants and burrow into the soil, where they construct a spherical cell and metamorphose into yellow pupae. This lasts between five and ten days. Depending on latitude, there are one to three generations per year; nevertheless, two generations can occur as far north as Canada.

potato bug adult on a leaf
Potato bug adult

The third generation in the south typically feeds on weeds and is sometimes overlooked. The potato bug has a similar life cycle as the Colorado potato bug. The eggs hatch within four to five days, and the larvae feed on the host plant’s leaves. There are four instars of larvae, each lasting 21 days. The larvae drop to the earth to pupate, a process that lasts between 10 and 15 days.

Cultural Control of Potato Bug

Cultural methods of controlling the Colorado potato bug, such as crop rotation and the removal of agricultural detritus, may be utilized. If crops are rotated, there needs to be a distance of at least 0.5 kilometers between them in order to provide protection. Because beetles initially spread by walking, crop rotation and trenching are two effective methods for dramatically reducing beetle infestations.

  • Pre-planting. Chitting, or green sprouting, accelerates whole-seed potato growth by 7–10 days. Early planting helps the crop grow before CPB adults and larvae arrive. It may reduce insecticide use but not cause damage.
  • Straw mulching potato and eggplant plants reduce adult settling. In larger plantings, strip planting in rye mulch, then mowing and pressing the straw over the seedlings when they emerge, works. Smaller plots can be strawed.
  • Trench traps, trap crops, and straw mulch all help to delay and reduce infestation. Install plastic-lined trench traps near overwintering places a week before adults emerge. Trenches should be 1\’–2\’ deep and 6\”–24\” wide at the top. They are U- or V-shaped, with side walls sloping 65°–90°. The trench traps field-border beetles.
  • Plant perimeter trap crops before the main crop to attract bugs. Plant trap crops between overwintering sites and this season’s crop. flame, vacuum, or spray the border crop before bugs enter the main crop. A systemic insecticide-treated barrier of three to five rows of potatoes around the field will kill up to 80% of colonizing beetles. Straw mulch around the host crop reduces beetles. Late planting may drive insects out before potatoes grow, reducing their numbers.

Chemical Control of Potato Bug

Colorado potato bug prevents commercial potato cultivation without pesticides. Growers can apply systemic insecticides to soil or seed at planting or to foliage after crop emergence. If you treat beetles every year, you can use a systemic insecticide at planting. Pesticides applied to the foliage allow for the assessment of beetle pressure prior to treatment. Foliar pesticide users might treat field edges or “hot spots” to prevent invasion from one side.

All pesticides work best on young larvae. Eggs and pupae are chemically insensitive, and adults are hard to regulate. Targeting young larvae prevents damage and permits insecticide-resistant adult beetles to mate with susceptible ones, reducing selection pressure. Sprays will only kill resistant overwintering adults. Resistant individuals reproduce resistant kids, spreading the gene. After several generations of non-exposure, a population may never restore its pre-exposure vulnerability.

Biological Control of Potato Bug

Even though numerous natural antagonists have been identified. They are typically unable to reduce Colorado potato bug concentrations to acceptable levels. Raptors such as green lacewings, many predatory stink bugs, and the spined soldier bug are among these natural adversaries. The most significant parasitoid is the tachinid fly, Myiopharus doryphorae, which affects the final generation of beetles by reaching large numbers in autumn. Early in the season in Colorado, Leptinotarsa decemlineata doesn’t become a big problem because there are so many parasites. 

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